The Monsanto House of the Future

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A glimpse into the future in the nineteen fifties.

I know that this sounds like something Doc Emmett Brown would say but it’s interesting to go back and see what ideas people had about the future.

In 1957 the idea of the future was something that fascinated the Disney organisation and also a firm called the Monsanto Company. They thought, in common with Mr. Robinson from The Graduate, that the future could be summed up in one word — ‘plastics’.

So Monsanto built the ‘house of the future’ which went on display at Disneyland in 1957. But rather than explain further, here I offer you (drum roll) the house of the future!

Isn’t that interesting? The house was their vision of what life would be like in 1986 and yet in its styling, it still looks to be very nineteen fifties, doesn’t it? Look at the fabrics and the styling. And I’m sure that I spotted a chair by Harry Bertoia in the little girl’s bedroom. (‘Young lady’s’ bedroom, rather).

So, what did they get right? Or wrong?

House_of_the_Future

As you saw in the video, the house is make almost entirely of plastic materials. The design of the exterior, though futuristic for its day, still looks to have the Mid Century Modern vibe, doesn’t it?

The first room we visit is the kitchen. Don’t you love the idea of storage (including refrigerated and frozen foods) sliding down from the wall cabinets? I do — until the motor breaks, in which case I can envisage an awful mess, and an expensive repair bill. But irradiated foods?

The designers were correct in that by 1986 many homes, if not most in the US and the UK, had microwaves. The microwave oven had been first developed just after the Second World War so it wasn’t brand new technology in 1957 but the designers were spot on when their realised just how popular the oven would be.

The idea of all plastic plates and glasses doesn’t appeal to me at all but I do love that dishwasher / storage unit. And the lamp over the dining table is gorgeous – I would love it in my tiny Mid Century Modern apartment.

The climate control shown in the kitchen is reality today – in fact we’ve well surpassed that technology as we can control various aspects of our homes from our phones no matter where we are.

“Here’s a vanity that seems a fantastic dream of the future” says the narrator as the lady of the house sits in her boudoir. He then says that on one side of the vanity is a ‘lavatory’ by which I assume he means sink and not toilet!

We then see the lady of the house using a speakerphone. Yes, by golly, when she is arranging her hair she can speak to her friends on the phone with no hands required. (But compare the cumbersome ‘phone machine’ with an iPhone!)

In the living room, the happy householders can listen to ‘stereophonic’ music on built in ‘high fidelity equipment’. Note that as they relax they do something that we’d be most unlikely to see in any homes these days. They get out a packet of cigarettes. How things change.


In the bathroom we have another ‘lavatory’ which, the film explains, can be lowered or raised depending on the height of the user. In the main bathroom, we see the man of the house shaving (with a built in shaver) and at the same time seeing who is at the door ringing the bell.

Yes, we have that technology today. In fact, we can speak to people who are ringing our doorbell even when we are at work or out to dinner — something that maybe the designers of the House of the Future thought impossible.

Isn’t it interesting that they didn’t foresee home computers? And the happy family are seen reading books — real books, not Kindles or iPads. No digital clocks either.

What I do love though is the way that the lady of the house floats through the place immaculately dressed in gorgeous nineteen fifties frocks, complete with strand of pearls and large pearl earrings. I wonder what she’d say if she could see me now — tapping away wearing tatty jeans and an old t-shirt?

Aftermath

The House of the Future was a popular attraction at Disney land for ten years. When it was demolished in 1967, the wrecking ball bounced off the plastic exterior of the home!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

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Author: Jackie Jackson

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